The road to hell is truly paved with good, even if sometimes ridiculous, intentions. A whole line of Israeli writers have signed up to an open letter to Samer Issawi, the prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for many months. “We feel,”they wrote to him, “that the suicidal act you are about to commit will add another facet of tragedy and desperation to the conflict between the two peoples… don’t pile more despair on the despair already in existence…. “We urge you to stop your hunger strike and choose life.” And because they have imposed the responsibility actually upon him, upon the skeletal bare bones that is still left of him, they, these fully satiated people, also demanded of him that he should give them hope: ” Give yourself hope, thus strengthening the hope within all of us,” they write.
And I ask you, my fellow writers and enlightened Israeli people,how did you turn this narrative upside down? It is not Samer Issawi, but you, who have given up and chosen doom. You, who have seen with your eyes the moral decline of Israeli society under its elected leadership. You, who have seen all this during all those years and either remained on the sideline or occasionally sounded a whimpered protest – you are the ones who gave up – you and not him.
Issawi did not choose to commit suicide but to fight for his freedom. Had you really been anxious about his welfare and wanted to encourage him to choose life, you would have demanded his immediate release. And it is quite likely that your voice would have been heard throughout this land and the whole world. Had you responded in this fashion you would have bestowed hope upon him and his people – and our people. Because his life and our lives, his death and ours are all intertwined inseparably. Who knows this better than you and who can tell it better than you that the decision is in the hands of Israel and that it is Israel whom you need to address. It is the government who holds the power and the weapons, not the prisoner who is fading away in his handcuffs.
Faced with all this power, this prisoner chose the protest weapon of a hunger strike – a non-violent weapon and one as legitimate as they come. He has used it for the thousands locked up in Israeli jails for decades and for the many new detainees who are joining them daily, after having been taken from their homes during night raids by the army. Well, the level of Issawi’s anger and suffering meant that he apparently reached the end of his tether, and if he dies others will take his place – this is his hope and that is his message, a message of struggle. And you are asking him to drop this fight? What hope are you offering him, you liberated free people?
You write to him that there are now “new encouraging signs that the negotiations between the sides will resume which will include the release of prisoners, including even you.” Really? He wasn’t released all that long ago following negotiations. He was released back into that big prison that he and all his people are corralled in between walls and fences a few kilometres from your own homes. And what happened? He had crossed one such fence, from one neighbourhood in the city of Jerusalem to another, and was immediately captured and imprisoned in a smaller jail again. “Do you want your liberation?” they tell him. “Then go to that jail known as Gaza or to exile overseas, as long as you go away from your Land, from your birthplace, and get out of our sight.”
“We are committed to tirelessly striving toward peace between the two peoples, who will live side by side forever in this country “, you sign off your open letter to him. You are our greatest writers, who cherish and respect the meaning of words, how could you lend your name to this kind of rhetoric today in 2013? After all, if you went to see for yourself in the place we call “the Territories”, you would have realised that while you were “tirelessly striving for peace” that big prison, in which one of the two peoples of the land is incarcerated, has been transformed into a disjointed region disrupted and divided by huge brown settlements, and there’s no other place for two peoples living forever side by side…
So here’s what I suggest to you and us in a response to your open letter: instead of teaching Issawi the rules of struggle, let us learn from him and join in a non-violent popular struggle. We won’t be fighting for his life but for our own. We won’t be struggling against him, but against who seek to destroy and wreck who have come from amongst us and who are now in power.
Let’s carry it in the spirit of what Yossi Sarid wrote here recently. (If not with a stone, then with what? Haaretz 12 April), he suggested: “boycotting Israeli goods, not working in the building of settlements… lying down in front of the bulldozers, attacking the fences and the walls, getting arrested at every opportunity, filling the prisons.” While it is true that Sarid actually offered these proposals to the Palestinians (perhaps out of despair, there is a new fashion developing among good Israelis, to teach the Palestinians how to get rid of us….) But it would actually be much easier and more convenient for us to be guided and inspired by those tips.
Palestinians cannot afford to stop working in the settlements nor can they boycott Israeli goods, for if they were to do that,they will sentence their families to hunger. They do not have an alternative income or goods. But we can call for the boycott of the settlements and their products, despite the law prohibiting it, without risking having food taken out of our mouths. Palestinians risk their lives when they tackle the walls and fences, and they are injured and killed while doing so. But we can challenge the walls in a friendly and peaceful manner: visit the towns and villages of the West Bank despite the prohibitions inscribed on those daunting red signs that the Israeli authorities placed on their outskirts. We can transport Palestinians to visit us. As for lying down in front of bulldozers, we’d skip that for the time being, for that was the way in which Rachel Corrie was killed some years back. As for the prisons, the Palestinians fill them anyway from Megiddo to Nafta, and many spend most of their lives in them. And as for us – by the time we start filling them because of our non-violent resistance; by the time A B Yehoshua, Agi Mishol, Amos Oz and Ronit Matalon, for example, are incarcerated in jail – by then there will be a genuine public discourse on the direction of our country, and perhaps it will bring with it the internal change that tens of thousands of us desire so much. I urge you, signatories to the Issawi letter, brace up this hope inside us.
The author is a translator, editor and author.
Translated by Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service, Melbourne, Australia.